February 27, 2012

culinary mount everest

It's what Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen calls her home made lasagne and no wonder.  It is a feat to accomplish and a feast to behold (although it didn't get beheld in our house as much as it got snaffled up).  Lasagne bolognese is up there as one of my favourite, hearty, home cooked treats and I'm always looking to improve the recipe I've used for all these years.  I've made it from scratch before a few times you see, even down to making our own pasta, but I've always skipped cooking the pasta first and while the flavours have been good, it's always been a little floury.  Now I know why, although I can't tell you why I've always ignored this step.  Maybe because it's another step in an already long list of tasks and well, when you want a lasagne, you want it bad.  And now.

I didn't skip a thing this time, no.  I followed Deb's recipe almost to the letter**.  I added an extra egg to the pasta (working on Jamie Oliver's 1 egg per 100g flour) and I'm glad I did, because even with the extra egg I needed a splash of water to bring the dough together.  I started it in our KitchenAid before kneading it myself, until it was as smooth and as sproingy as can be.  Deb doesn't suggest working the dough at all, but I've always thought you needed to work the gluten to get a nice, firm but springy pasta.  I could be wrong but after all the work I'd put into the ragu and the bechamel, I went with what I knew and had tested before, and it worked a treat.

The children got a kick out of cranking the pasta machine and I loved taking photos of them doing so, and while I'd hoped Ollie would be more enthusiastic about eating pasta having helped make it, it wasn't to be.  I must have the only child that doesn't want to eat pasta.  No matter what.  Is this normal?

So after the ragu, the bechamel, the pasta came the finished dish and a lot of washing up, which was totally worth it.  The result was delicious, although it didn't hold together terribly well, but it had that creamy/meaty quality that I often crave in a lasagne but can be lacking in the home made variety which can sometimes be too dry.  Max polished off his portion and I was left wondering whether for dessert I'd eat a slice of banana cake with some single cream or another portion of lasagne.  It was that good.  (I did both.)

Next time?  I'll keep the pasta a hair thicker.  I like it thin but I also like a bit of structure to my lasagne and a thicker pasta might help with that (although the next day the reheated slab was pretty much structurally sound).  Other than that, there's not much I'd change. I'd make more, though and freeze up a couple of those bad boys for that mid week moment when you know you deserve something special but after the boys are fed, bathed and in bed you can barely peel yourself off the couch to make it happen. After all, you've just climbed a culinary mountain (with a few detours along the way), so why not take an evening off?

** Changes included:
 - The ragu - I added some rosemary (and wished my bay laurel hadn't been demolished by those cheeky little grasshoppers only the day before).  I also used two 400g tins of tomatoes rather than tomato paste and water.  I found this meant I didn't need to keep topping the ragu up with water (although I did once or twice), and I got a much more mellow sauce rather than one which I think would have been too sweet and rich for my liking.  I only simmered mine for about 3.5 hours, which was ample.  I loved the idea of using the food processor for chopping the mirepoix (or I suppose the term soffritto would be more appropriate) as I do find the chopping a little tedious when I'm trying to get this done during the kids' naps.  Once it was on, the ragu was as easy as anything.
 - The bechamel - the nutmeg is, to my mind, essential.  It gives the bechamel a depth and a fragrance and an earthiness that is so good, Will eats the leftover bechamel straight from the pan with the wooden spoon.  I also needed much more milk than the recipe suggested but then I've never come across a recipe for  bechamel that didn't need a bit of judgement when it came to how much milk to add. 
 - Pasta - I added an extra egg and I used 00 flour, rather than plain (though we've used plain flour before and it was fine).  I've only ever made Jamie Oliver's pasta recipe, and it is a winner.  And I kneaded the bejesus out of the dough on a heavily floured surface before letting it rest for 30 mins in the fridge.  The humidity didn't help but we worked quickly and that did.

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